It was warm enough for Rusty to seek a little shade in the middle of our afternoon walk. That was all part of my Cunning Plan. The wife and I were going to abandon Rusty that night and I wanted him ready for bed when the grown ups went into town for some adult entertainment. Besides the Red Barn Theater doesn't welcome dogs.
The sun was riding low by the time we pulled up into our secret free parking spot next to the courthouse. Not so secret really but very convenient as most people prefer to pay to park at the more obvious post office lot nearby.
We walked past the Tropic Cinema on our way to the Red Barn on Duval and I put this movie in my coming attractions list.
Closer to our destination at the corner of Eaton and Duval this neatly abandoned pair of sandals demanded an answer to the existential question that we have all asked ourselves from time to time: Why are we here? Damned if I know in answer to all such questions.
Duval Street looked peaceful at that pre-sunset hour. I suppose everyone was at the waterfront gawping at the horizon in imitation of Tennessee Williams who started the whole sunset celebration thing.
Of course the few present did make a good job of obscuring my view of the street but I sent an encouraging text to my colleagues at work. I told them there weren't many people around that they could expect a quiet night. I sent it with a sly grin on my night off.
The Red Barn was up to snuff as usual. The four speaking parts carried off their roles with aplomb and even though after the show my wife and I walked back to the car re-writing some of the plot we enjoyed the performance. And I have to say I really liked that there was no intermission as I hate the shuffling to get up and move around and all that stuff interrupting the flow of the plot. I found a great review of the play itself in the Chicago Tribune, below.
The Karen Zacarias play "Native Gardens," is one of the very few contemporary comedies about racism, sexism, ageism and cultural privilege. It's a warm-centered and potentially empathetic piece, set in a pair of Washington-area backyards, that holds on to the fast-receding ideal that we should all be able to live next door to each other, whatever our background, age and politics, even as the play rightly observes that such harmony cannot exist without some willingness for self-examination, especially on the side of the fence where historical privilege has resided.
The metaphor of import is a garden, tended by Frank Butley, a former federal employee whose style of choice is the formal English garden: ivy, geraniums and the like, all carefully cultivated with the help of a little insecticide and the support of a loving fellow-Republican wife, aptly named Virginia.
When a new couple move in next door, a Chilean lawyer named Pablo Del Valle and his American wife, Tania a doctoral student with a kid on the way, initial over-the-fence encounters are friendly, even though Frank and Tania (who prefers the native wildflowers that Frank deems weeds) quickly figure out that they have very different conceptions of what should be in a garden, the proximate representation of the natural world being yet another thing on which Americans often fail to agree.
But things go awry when the Del Valle family finds out that Frank's precious blooms are on their land. The fence between the houses does not accurately reflect the boundary line. Things deteriorate from there
This is where things get tough to swallow — the Del Valles are oblivious to something that, in the real world, they would have known before they closed on the house, unless they had somehow not needed a mortgage. For the play to work, Zacarias needs urgency added to this discovery, so she creates a sudden party that the climbing Pablo wants to have to impress his bosses, which means that he needs a whole new fence to be constructed in a matter of a day or two (good luck with that in the real world).
Zacarias manages to treat everyone with a measure of empathy and compassion, and the show has some laughs and gently dispensed challenges. Its good-spiritedness could not be more welcome as "Native Gardens" is a comedy planted in difficult, painful issues. But Zacarias is a populist and compassionate writer, and she finds a lot of political strength in those qualities.
Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.